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Is An Alternative To The Israeli–Palestinian Peace Process Having Its Moment?

A former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. believes the idea for unilateral action has "moved to the Israeli center."

Posted on June 10, 2014, at 1:08 p.m. ET

Benjamin Myers / Reuters

HERZLIYA, Israel — An alternative plan to end the Israeli–Palestinian conflict proposed by Israel's former ambassador to the U.S. is having a moment in the spotlight after U.S.-led peace talks broke down last month.

Michael Oren, a historian who served as Israel's U.S. ambassador for four years until late last year, has been advocating what he calls Plan B, a proposal that would have Israel unilaterally withdraw from the occupied West Bank, redraw its borders to include most of the settlers, and end the occupation — all without first negotiating a deal with the Palestinians. Plan B is intended to outmaneuver potential forthcoming Palestinian moves at the United Nations to seek acknowledgment of statehood.

The idea isn't exactly new. Oren proposed a version of his Plan B years ago, but it has come back into the spotlight after the former ambassador began re-promoting it in January, reviving the idea as a possibility if talks were to fail, which eventually came to pass in April.

Oren believes Plan B could garner support in the U.S. "There's greater support for the two-state solution in Israel than there is in the United States," Oren said. "The hard sell is the two-state solution in the U.S."

The U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro appeared to approve of the plan.

"We believe there's a way back to the negotiating table but I agree with Ambassador Oren that we should consider a range of options and I appreciate the creative solutions that he and others have brought forward, without endorsing any specific proposal," Shapiro said Sunday in an address to the Herzliya conference, a yearly Middle East policy conference that takes place near Tel Aviv. "I think it's a productive debate to have about what are alternative ways to proceed if we are not able to resume negotiations."

But it's less clear if the plan could become a political reality in Israel. Oren's idea and ones similar to it face deep skepticism due to similarities to Israel's controversial decision to withdraw from Gaza in 2005, a move that many blamed for an upsurge in violence coming from Gaza in its wake. But Oren insisted in an interview on Monday in his office on the campus of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya that it could become politically viable and that it had "moved to the Israeli center."

Some other proposals share elements of the unilateral nature of Plan B, including a new peace plan presented by Finance Minister Yair Lapid during a speech at the Herzliya conference on Sunday. Lapid's plan would involve freezing construction on isolated settlements and a withdrawal from parts of the West Bank that do not have any Jewish residents and eventually from isolated West Bank settlements, followed by negotiations with the Palestinians over a final border agreement.

"Not my specific concept but the idea of unilateral solutions has been adopted by many major parties, whether it's [Economy Minister Naftali] Bennett's idea or now Lapid's idea or Tzipi [Livni, the justice minister]'s idea," Oren said.

One skeptic is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who publicly criticized Lapid's plan, which like Oren's would involve unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank.

"We cannot allow a lack of experience, especially in security matters, to lead us to a program with reckless results, as they would be with disengagement," Netanyahu reportedly said of Lapid to members of his party on Monday.

Despite a seeming lack of support for unilateralism from Netanyahu, Oren suggested he believed this government could be the one to implement Plan B.

Governments that are "center-center right," he said, have an easier time making peace than governments that are "center-center left": "This is classic Israeli history."